Swartz leads Panthers down a path of district dominance

Published Oct. 18, 2006|Updated Oct. 20, 2006

It's 5 a.m., the morning talk shows are still two hours away, the interstate is clear of morning traffic and most coffee pots aren't even turned on yet.

But Jillian Swartz, 17, already is warming up in her neighborhood pool for swim practice.

After swimming for about 1.5 hours, it's off to Lecanto High, where Swartz is a senior. But the sound of the last period bell doesn't signify the end of her long day - she's now off to cross country practice where she is a varsity captain.

Her cross country career began in eighth grade with a little push from her father, who was a competitive runner in high school and still competes in local races.

"My dad thought I should try out for cross country, so I tried it and was good at it," she said. "I've stuck with it ever since. I definitely look up to my dad. If I ever have any questions, I always go to him and he always helps me."

Swartz, the oldest of five children, has grown to love cross country largely in part because of the support of her family.

"My whole family tries to come to my swim and track meets," she said. "They spread out along the course, each person farther down so there's always someone cheering for me. They have had a huge influence on that aspect of my life."

Swartz's personal goal for her final season is to run the high school distance (5K) in 20 minutes, 30 seconds. But above all, as captain she would like to help her team win the district title a fourth straight year.

"To have the team win for all four years that I've been here would be quite an accomplishment," she said. "That's the biggest goal of the season. I have to think about the whole team.

"I'm hoping I can get my time down so I can set the example for the rest of the team. I want to be someone to look up to and follow."

Even with all the hustle and bustle in her jam-packed schedule, Swartz is going into her last year of high school with an above 4.0 grade point average and is taking four advanced placement classes.

If that weren't enough, Swartz is involved with the National Honors Society and volunteers at her local church, where she is involved with the Caregivers program.

"Elderly people come to the church and we spend time with them," she said. "We talk with them and do things they normally wouldn't do."

Swartz hopes to continue running even after she graduates and is looking at Division II and III colleges both in and out of state.

While she might not be sure exactly where she will go to college, Swartz hopes to pursue a major in the science field, either in biology or sports medicine.

"I want to go to a small school so I can run," she said. "I'm not sure where I want to go, but I definitely know that I want to go to college. That's what I want to do."